Marco Island City Council appalled by commission's weak action against disgraced former officer

Devan Patel
Naples Daily News

A disgraced former Marco Island police officer gained infamy when he became embroiled in the sex on duty scandal that rocked the agency.

But with the state's Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission handing down a light punishment and allowing Neil Giansanti to keep his certification, the Marco Island City Council is making sure it and Gov. Ron DeSantis know how dismayed it is with the handling of the case.

In a letter to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz has asked the commission to reconsider its decision.

"It appears that you believe that this man is morally, ethically and judgmentally qualified to serve and protect the citizens of Florida," Brechnitz wrote. "This is preposterous and I am personally outraged as are the citizens of Marco Island. The notion that this man can carry a gun and a badge in another community in our great state boggles the mind."

More:Ex-Marco officer tied to sex on duty scandal allowed to keep law enforcement certification

Brechnitz said he decided to write a letter after the Naples Daily News reported how a stipulation and settlement agreement between Giansanti and the commission resulted in a 60-day suspension and one year of probation.

The commission, which identifies its mission as ensuring officers are "ethical and qualified," has the power to discipline officers for moral character violations.

Defined by state statute, they include, but are not limited to, the adjudication of guilt for felony offenses, some misdemeanor crimes such as theft, as well as instances of dishonest behavior or bias. The definition also includes sex on duty for which the penalty can range from suspension to revocation of an officer’s certification.

Brechnitz said the commission's decision made it seem like "window dressing."

"I was incensed and repulsed by the lack of follow-through of this commission, which is supposed to be in charge of the ethical conduct of every police officer in the state of Florida," Brechnitz said.

While Giansanti resigned two years ago while under investigation for having sex on duty, an internal affairs investigation sustained multiple violations of police policy after unearthing a 45-second video of Giansanti putting his uniform back on while standing next to his police car and a woman putting her hand through his pants' zipper.

Giansanti was one of the three officers who either resigned or was fired as a result of the scandal. All three officers were involved with the same woman separately over multiple years.

Sgt. James Inlow was the first officer to be investigated after the woman's father came forward in January 2017 with digital evidence showing Inlow was sexting and soliciting Adderall from her while on duty.

More:Investigation finds two former Marco Island cops separately engaged in sex while on duty

Inlow, like Giansanti, resigned while under investigation.

With the assistance of the Collier County Sheriff's Office, the police department retrieved a trove of messages and a video from the woman's phone and computer which implicated both men and a third officer, Kevin Hennings.

A fourth officer, Brian Granneman, was reprimanded for knowing about Inlow's actions but not reporting them to another supervisor. Granneman resigned from the department in October.

Hennings, who denied the allegations, was fired in September 2017 and is going through arbitration to regain his employment.

A timestamp and GPS location from the 45-second video puts Giansanti and the woman in the parking lot of the Family Church of Marco Island at 1:53 a.m. on April 4, 2017.

According to a shift report, Giansanti was scheduled to work from 6 p.m. April 3 to 6 a.m. April 4.

Giansanti responded to eight calls during that shift but none between 1:19 and 2:53 a.m.

An activity log shows the period of inactivity was bookended by calls around the church.

In an interview with investigators, the woman estimated she had sexual encounters with Giansanti about 20 times over eight months, including in his squad car and a public park.

More:Terminated Marco Island police officer accused of having sex on duty

A review of disciplinary decisions for the nearly 300 sex on duty complaints reveals mixed punishments.

Inlow was among several officers last year who had their certifications revoked.

From July to September 2019 alone, three officers had their certifications revoked for sex on duty complaints. Another officer received a six-months suspension in October 2019 after admitting to wrongdoing.

Marco Island City Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz was dismayed by the light punishment doled out by the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission to a former Marco Island police officer who had sex on duty.

Outraged by the light punishment, Brechnitz said he spoke with state Rep. Bob Rommel, who assured him he would hand the letter to DeSantis.

"This wasn't just a small infraction," Brechnitz said. "This was someone our investigation showed had multiple sexual encounters in multiple locations in the back of a police car while he was on duty."

Brechnitz said the city provided the commission with all of the information necessary for it to make the right decision.

"The optics are just terrible," Brechnitz said. 

Giansanti could not be reached for comment.